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Exchange Pilot Assignment Strengthens Australia, U.S. Ties

By Shadi May
Special to American Forces Press Service

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash., April 3, 2006 – Foreign exchange pilots from Australia assigned here are helping their U.S. counterparts carry out global air refueling, airlift and humanitarian assignments.

The exchange program selects the best pilots in the Royal Australian Air Force with a minimum of 1,500 flying hours. Although instructional experience is not essential, it is a highly desirable factor to be selected for the three-year program, officials said.

"They are sending us their best qualified pilots," said Air Force Maj. Dennis Bernier, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations. "They are all outstanding pilots and huge assets to the squadron."

"This is one of the most prestigious jobs in our careers -- the location, role and the opportunity to work with the U.S. Air Force," said Flight Lt. Trevor Wright, one of the two Australian exchange pilots assigned to the 93rd ARS. "For a small air force like ours, there are limited opportunities for us to do this type of assignment. It expands our career opportunities back home."

The RAAF rank of flight lieutenant is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force rank of captain.

Wright has more than 4,500 flying hours in the C-130 and a C-12 equivalent in his 13-year RAAF career. As a newly arrived pilot at Fairchild, he said he looks forward to the experience in the tanker because once back home, he will be involved with a tanker project for a new aircraft acquisition, the replacement to their current Boeing 707 refueler.

"My KC-135 aircraft commander training at Altus (Air Force Base, Okla.) was hard workload, hard pressure and hard operations tempo," Wright said. "The training at Altus gives you the tools on how to take off and land the aircraft safely -- a license to learn. But here at Fairchild, I am learning to develop my skills, techniques and traits in an operational setting."

While flying in Australia and other parts of the world, foreign pilots abide by International Civil Aviation Organization rules. While assigned in the United States, they must learn and practice Federal Aviation Administration rules, which is one of the challenges with this assignment.

"Learning about the FAA rules is a challenge because it involves a lot of studying since it's not second nature to us," Wright said. "And language is also a bit challenging. Although we speak the same language, phraseology is subtly different. Some words can mean quite different things in aviation terminology."

But the flying experience will make the hard work worthwhile, Wright explained. "The KC-135 is a pilot's airplane to fly. The technology forces you to hand fly the airplane, which is great for a pilot."

While supporting this squadron's mission, Wright said, hopes to achieve one of his dreams -- to refuel a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. "It is one aircraft I particularly look forward to refueling because it's the state-of-the-art technology."

Flight Lt. Craig Chaseling, who has been at Fairchild for more than two years, said he believes the new flight lieutenant should be able to refuel just about everything while on this assignment. "I have refueled nearly every type of aircraft but the F-22 and the F-117," Chaseling said. "I would really like to get a chance to refuel those because they are the cutting edge of the aviation technology."

A C-130 pilot, as well as a PC-9 (a T-6 U.S. trainer equivalent) pilot, Chaseling brings more than 4,200 flying hours and instructional experience in his 12-year career to his U.S. counterparts. "Professionally, it's been an incredible operational experience for me. And personally, my family and I have enjoyed our living experience in the United States. I have learned to ski, and we have done a lot of traveling," Chaseling said.

But the assignment has not been without challenges. "Command and control structure and rules and regulations are somewhat different here, so it's been a challenge to adjust," he said. "The end results are the same, but how the goals are achieved is different. Also, every time we need to deploy, there is a very strict protocol for the United States to put in a request with the Australian government to approve our participation. We cannot deploy to all the locations the U.S. forces deploy."

Since his arrival, Chaseling has upgraded to instructor pilot and now holds the position of the squadron's chief of training. "Because of their hours and experience, they upgrade to instructor pilot fairly quickly," Bernier said. "They have also taken on additional duties and do everything we do and more.

"These are highly qualified individuals, exceptional in every way and very dedicated to doing a good job while here, and it shows," Bernier said.

The hard work and dedication has paid off for Chaseling. He was selected as the squadron's instructor pilot of the quarter.

He said his most memorable mission was supporting the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-114 mission. "Last August, we flew a KC-135 as the pathfinder aircraft ahead of the Boeing 747 shuttle carrier from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., with a few stops on the way. "This was the first time a KC-135 had been a pathfinder aircraft for NASA," he said. "This particular mission included the Australian astronaut, Andrew Thomas, so it was quite the experience of a life time."

Both pilots agree that this assignment is a great opportunity and a two-way street for both governments to build closer ties and share new ideas and techniques while working as allied nations.

"Flying with the Australian pilots on a day-to-day basis has really given us a great opportunity to exchange ideas on how we operate," U.S. Air Force Maj. Landon Walker, 93rd ARS chief of standardization and evaluation, said.

"The Aussies look at what we do from a totally different viewpoint," he said. "They give us a fresh perspective about how we do business."

(Shadi May is assigned to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing.)

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